An artist’s impression of the royal yacht, which has an estimated price tag of £200m (Image: PA)
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Boris Johnson is facing new questions over his 'royal yacht' vanity project after he was unable to say who will pay for it.
The Prime Minister's spokesman today revealed there is still no publicly-assigned government department to foot the bill for the vessel – officially called the "national flagship" and with an estimated £200m price tag.
The Ministry of Defence will pay the "initial cost of taking the flagship through the procurement process", the spokesman said.
But he was unable to say how large this "initial cost" would be, and added: "We haven’t set out the source of full funding for the rest of the project, and we will do so at a later stage."
It comes after No10 angered defence campaigners yesterday by appearing to suggest the MOD would foot the bill for what is essentially a trade ship.
Former defence minister Johnny Mercer tweeted: "Slightly irritating given they asked me to reduce the budget of the new Office for Veteran’s Affairs from a £5m to £3m, just 12 months after it was formed."
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Reports claim the Ministry of Defence did not even know about the vessel – a replacement for Royal Yacht Britannia -until its creation was briefed to Sunday newspapers last month.
"There is a huge row going on about the royal yacht and who is going to fund it," a senior Tory told the Sunday Times.
"The seeds are being sown for an almighty set-to between Boris and [Chancellor Rishi Sunak ] over spending."
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today claimed the royal yacht was "a great idea and I'm very positive about it, because I think it will more than pay for itself many, many times over."
But Downing Street was unable to offer any evidence to support Mr Hancock's claim.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, pictured with Prince Charles, today claimed the royal yacht was "a great idea"
Instead the PM's spokesman said: "Obviously it will be used for trade negotiations and things like that and the benefits of those are documented."
No10 insisted "we are investing a great deal of money into the country on a number of issues important to the public".
But former chancellor Ken Clarke branded the plan "silly populist nonsense" and said "we have no money" for it.
"£200 million is not going to cause problems, but it shows there are people in No 10 who just think there's free money," he said.
"And who think that waving a Union Jack and sending yachts and aircraft carriers around the world shows what a great power we are.
"We have no money for that kind of thing."
Lord Clarke's criticism came as official figures showed that government borrowing stood at £24.3 billion in May.
That is down from £43.8 billion a year earlier at the height of the pandemic, but still the second highest figure for the month on record and £18.9 billion more than in 2019.
"The amount of investment that you can get in from the rest of the world by showing the best of Britain in harbours the world over is very, very significant," Matt Hancock told Today.
"And I think we should be getting out there and trading with the world."